Three Chicks on the Chama Choo Choo
By Gary Rollins
I love my job.
Last week found me loitering in front of Charlie’s Market, checking license plates and scouting the meager crowd for signs of out-of-statedness. Not very productive, I should add, dashing my hopes of snagging at least one good interview before I hit the road for Antonito CO, the jumping off point for a fabulous two-day experience on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.
The next morning, we boarded a sleek, spacious bus and drove on down to Chama Village, and enjoyed a brief stroll through a community that has geared itself to taking care of the shopping and dining needs of an impressive group of people who show up each day to ride the small gauge Denver & Rio Grande Western train through some magnificent scenery to a terminus back at Antonito. It is an eight hour trip through unbelievable terrain and we happened to hit it at the most beautiful weekend of autumn. The aspens were 24-karat gold and so were the memories we all accumulated as the train moved along.
I learned the railroad – rolling stock, track and all of the buildings – had been purchased many years ago for only $550,000 by a Colorado- New Mexico coalition. I gulped when I learned the tourism they attract each year now generates in excess of $50 million in revenue. (Color me green with envy.)
I would calculate the total crowd that day was something close to 100 souls who came to enjoy a very special train ride on the last weekend of the train’s season.
I had the pleasure of meeting three charming ladies – two from Pennsylvania and one from Texas – and that presented a neat opportunity to chat. They were all related, and the two from Pennsylvania were both travel agents. This opened the door for me to learn how much they knew about La Veta.
That part of my interview didn’t take long.
They were aware of a railroad link from Alamosa to La Veta, but the word seems to be “out there” that there’s not much to be seen in our charming community during the train’s turnaround time. They also had learned the dining accommodations were not in the same league as we had found in Osier when the train stopped at that station at the midpoint of the trip or in Chama. I explained that I was more than aware of the problem, but didn’t have many ideas to offer up about the long-term probability of improvement in that particular area. It did strike me that money was no object for those rail travelers.
And it was also my observation that we might be missing a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on what would be considered a local natural resource. Tourists with money in their pockets are hard to find these days.
It was not that difficult to find myself envying both Chama and Antonito. I’ll bet you will agree with me.